The spread of the “constitutional sheriffs” movement—which claims that local county sheriffs are the supreme law of the land, capable of overruling federal and state laws, as well as prohibiting federal and state agencies from enforcing them—throughout rural American sheriff’s offices has often seemed like a quaint but localized problem: Sure, having set themselves up as laws unto themselves, they seem to always run their jurisdictions like private fiefdoms, but it doesn’t affect people outside those counties.
But we have in fact seen—notably in the case of Klickitat County, Washington’s “constitutional” sheriff, who undermined the entire state’s ability to regulate the hunting of endangered mountain lions—that in fact their actions can have broad consequences. That’s especially the case with Michigan “constitutional sheriff” Dar Leaf, who was exposed recently spearheading a broader effort to enlist other sheriffs in seizing voting machines from local election officials to ostensibly prove Donald Trump’s Big Lie about fraud in the 2020 vote.
The report from Matt Shuham at Talking Points Memo [paywalled] details how Leaf, the chief lawman in Barry County and one of the more prominent “constitutional sheriffs” in Michigan, had undertaken to seize at least one ballot tabulator in 2021. According to the county clerk, the machine was then disassembled in Detroit and then reassembled with its seal broken.
Leaf not only has vowed to continue “investigating” voting practices in Barry County. After he filed a lawsuit in December 2020 demanding the county’s voting machines be impounded that was swiftly laughed out of court, Shuham reports that Leaf embarked on an “investigation” of the machines by sending a deputy and a private investigator to grill township officials about their intricacies.
It was during one of these interrogations that the Irving Township clerk surrendered one of the town’s Dominion machines to Leaf’s team. “I’ve been told they took it (to the Detroit area) and tore it apart,” she told a local TV station, noting that when the machine was returned, its security seal had been broken.
Dominion’s machines were the focus of a conspiracy theory popular after the election among the Trumpist right claiming that vote totals had been secretly manipulated to hand the presidency to Joe Biden. The theory was widely circulated on right-wing media such as Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax, all of whom now face multi-billion-dollar defamation lawsuits from the company.
Sheriff Leaf was connected through his attorney, Carson Tucker, to a number of the leading Trump-loving conspiracists the former president employed, including ex-Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. “My client Barry County Sheriff and several other county sheriffs in Michigan would like to consider issuing probable cause warrants to sequester Dominion voting machines if there is evidence of criminal manipulation,” Tucker wrote to them in one email.
Leaf’s extremism was well established well before the 2020 election. He had appeared onstage at an anti-masking rally bashing Governor Gretchen Whitmer with three of the “Patriots” who were later charged with plotting to kidnap and execute her. He first suggested to reporters that perhaps the plotters were only trying to make a “citizens arrest.” Leaf and other Michigan “constitutional sheriffs” also later refused to enforce a statewide ban on guns in Michigan polling places.
When Leaf’s actions with the Dominion tabulator from Irvin Township sparked a state investigation, the sheriff filed another lawsuit objecting to the probe. Shuham reports that Leaf’s lawsuit says that the state had both subpoenaed the deputy he had deployed and confiscated documents and voting machines he claimed “were a part of and subject to the ongoing investigation.” He also described the state police as “an unelected and unaccountable strong arm of the state, a partisan and politically controlled, run and operated ‘state police’ force in every sense of the term.”
More worryingly, the organization behind the far-right law-enforcement movement, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), wants to encourage other sheriffs around the country to do likewise.
CSPOA last month called on sheriffs and police around the U.S. “to come together in pursuit of the truth regarding the 2020 election.” Its press release read:
Considering the persistent allegations of election fraud since even before the 2020 elections began, and as a response to the perpetual polarizing effect this has had on the American people, the CSPOA would like to put this issue to rest. Our constitutional republic and peaceful future as a free people absolutely depend on it.
In the opinion of the CSPOA, there is very compelling physical evidence presented by truethevote.org in the movie “2000 Mules” produced by Dinesh D'Souza. “Law Enforcement has to step in at this point,” asserts D'Souza, and we absolutely agree with him. Therefore, we are asking for all local law enforcement agencies to work together to pursue investigations to determine the veracity of the “2000 Mules” information.
The press release lists five other “constitutional sheriffs” who are joining in the “investigation”: Bob Songer, the Klickitat sheriff; Leon Wilmot of Yuma County, Arizona; Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Kansas; Chris Schmalling of Racine County, Wisconsin; and Cutter Clinton of Panola County, Texas.
The organizer’s founder and chief overseer, ex-sheriff Richard Mack, told Shuham that he intended not only to back Leaf, but to spread the word among the 300 sheriffs—nearly all of them from rural counties—he claims are enrolled in the CSPOA.
“He would be within his rights to arrest them for interference and obstruction of justice,” he said of Leaf’s standoff with the state police.
Mack also expressed enthusiasm for one of the most aggressive plans presented by Trump’s allies after the last presidential election, seizing voting machines — a gambit Leaf had apparently attempted in Michigan.
“Absolutely, yeah they should,” Mack said. “Get them forensically tested and see if there was cheating. Of course!”
Wouldn’t law enforcement seizing voting machines around the country be alarming for a lot of people? Wouldn’t it look like some kind of coup?
“Why, because we’re trying to find the truth?” Mack shot back.
“If people think a legitimate investigation is a coup,” he added later, “then something’s wrong with their brain waves.”
The CSPOA’s slow but constant spread among law-enforcement officials—particularly its groundless insistence that the U.S. Constitution somehow confers supreme legal powers on county-level law enforcement, a claim that originated with the extremist Posse Comitatus movement—has long raised serious concerns about the spread of extremism within the ranks of police, an issue that has become intense in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Yet, as the Washington Post reported last year, the CSPOA’s breadth and depth has expanded in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a number of “constitutional sheriffs” announced their unwillingness to enforce public health measures such as masking or vaccine mandates.
“The pandemic was a boon to right-wing extremists,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told the Post. “Many sheriffs got on that bandwagon as well. In 2020, that was a very successful year for Richard Mack.”